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Emergency contraception may be only one or two pills, but not everyone fully understands how it works or how to use it. Just ask Jodie Foster and Black Mirror about how that one episode turned out for them.

Also known as EC, the morning-after pill or Plan B, emergency contraception can be used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex (or if the condom breaks during protected sex). Don’t make the same mistake as the directors and producers of a Netflix Original Series! Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about emergency contraception.

Do you need to be 18 to purchase EC?

No, you don’t need to be 18 to purchase EC. Previously, if you were under 17, then you needed to get a prescription before you could at the local pharmacy. But in 2013, the rule was changed and now anyone can purchase EC.

How many types of EC are there?

Emergency contraception is commonly referred to as the “morning-after pill” or “Plan B,” but Plan B is actually a brand name and is one type of EC. There are two other types: Ella and the IUD. Unlike Plan B, Ella does require a prescription. Unlike both Ella and Plan B, you can’t get an IUD from the pharmacy. An IUD can be emergency contraception if it’s inserted within five days after unprotected sex, but is only available at your OB-GYN or at a health center like Planned Parenthood.

Do you need a prescription to purchase EC?

For Plan B, you don’t need a prescription to purchase EC. It is available to everyone without a prescription. But, you still have to purchase it from the pharmacist behind the counter.  For Ella, you do need a prescription from your health care provider.

For an IUD, you need to make an appointment with your health care provider. IUDs aren’t available at the local pharmacy and you do need a doctor to insert the IUD for you.

Can my partner purchase EC for me?

There’s no law or policy that says the person purchasing EC must be the person taking the EC (unless it’s Ella because of the prescription). There have been stories of men being refused EC when buying it for their girlfriend, but that was primarily to ensure it’s not being purchased for someone underage. As we’ve already discussed, there’s no longer an age limit.

If I’m under 18, do I need a parent or guardian with me to purchase EC?

If you’re under 18, you don’t need a parent or guardian with you to purchase EC. You don’t need their health insurance to pay for it. You don’t need any signature or written approval to make your purchase. You don’t need a note from your doctor (unless you want Ella, then you need the prescription.) All you need is the money to pay for it.

Can a pharmacist or health care provider refuse to give me EC?

Unfortunately, pharmacists and health care providers can refuse to give you EC. However, pharmacists who refuse are also supposed to have another pharmacist on staff member help you or tell you another location where you can purchase EC.

How many times can I take EC throughout my life?

You can take EC as many times as you need throughout your life. You may have heard rumors that taking emergency contraception too many times will ruin your fertility or cause other health problems. However, they are not true.

However, emergency contraception should not be used as a primary form of birth control. It’s not as effective at preventing pregnancy as other methods. You should also avoid using EC more than once a month, as your menstrual cycle could be disrupted. If you don’t yet have a primary form of birth control, then make an appointment with us to discuss your options.

Can you buy more than one dose of EC at a time?

If those trips to the pharmacy are inconvenient, then consider purchasing more than one dose of emergency contraception at a time. EC can last up to five years before it expires, so purchase extra to keep in the medicine cabinet or to keep on your person in case a friend or family member needs EC. Having EC readily available encourages earlier use, making it more effective.

Will EC make me have an abortion?

No, EC does not cause abortions. EC is not an abortifacient and won’t work if you’re already pregnant. EC works by delaying ovulation, so it may not be effective if you’re already ovulating when you take it. If you happen to take EC when you’re pregnant, know that EC will not disrupt the pregnancy, harm the fetus or cause birth defects.

If I take EC, do I need to use another form of birth control the next time I have sex?

Emergency contraception may be effective within five days of unprotected sex, but it only works for one act. If you took the morning-after pill today, then it will not be effective in preventing pregnancy if you have unprotected sex tomorrow. EC isn’t a free pass. After you’ve taken EC, it’s best to use another form of birth control, such as condoms, during any sexual activity.

For Ella, it’s safest to wait until your next period before starting a hormonal birth control, such as pills. Since Ella is a hormonal form of emergency contraception, starting on the Pill soon after taking Ella can decrease its effectiveness. Ella can also hinder the effectiveness of your hormonal birth control. So, if you choose Ella as your EC, then wait for your next period before starting/restarting your primary birth control.

Jessica Schneider is a nurse practitioner with Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri

Tags: emergency contraception, birth control, FAQ